Vultures avoid Portugal because of carrion ban

Spanish research map of vulture travels Image copyright Eneko Arrondo et al
Image caption The study shows the vultures stay mainly in Spain

New research shows a trend of vultures avoiding Portugal in favour of Spain, it's reported.

Researchers from Portugal and Spain tagged 71 carrion birds for three years, and noticed that only 13 of them ventured into Portugal over that period, the Correio da Manha newspaper reports.

Scientists say vultures are avoiding Portugal in the hunt for food, and it's largely to do with mad cow disease.

Eneko Arrondo of the research team at Spain's Donana Biological Station says Portugal's strict laws on preventing the spread of mad cow disease require farmers to clear animal carcasses from their fields immediately, and hand them over for incineration or burial. This means scavengers don't have the chance to feed on them.

Spain took advantage of a change in European Union regulations in 2011 to allow regional councils to decide whether to leave carcasses out in the open - especially as the country is home to 90% of Europe's carrion birds.

Since then, the scientists have noted an "abrupt decline" in griffon and black vulture visits across the border into Portugal. Their study establishes that is most likely related to the availability of carcasses, rather than climate or geography.

'Species pay the price'

Image copyright El Pais/YouTube
Image caption Carrion abroad: tagged griffon vultures in Spain

The initial 2001 European Union regulation demanding the destruction of carcasses was "very drastic", and had a "very negative environmental impact", Mr Arrondo told Spain's El Pais newspaper. Nicolas Lopez of the Spanish Ornithological Society agrees that the "paradox of different regulations within the Iberian Peninsula means that endangered species pay the price".

Eneko Arrondo says harmonising these regulations is "vital" for the recovery of Portugal's native vulture population, which is on the brink of extinction.

Joaquim Teodosio of the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds says that he and the country's veterinary and forestry agencies are campaigning to have "sealed-off areas set aside for farms to deposit carcasses" near Portugal's largest remaining vulture colonies.

He told Publico newspaper that the birds have also suffered loss of habitat because of last summer's devastating forest fires.

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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